Tag Archives: Muir Woods

Greeting Summer Solstice at Muir Beach

I last posted about Summer Solstice and the summer solstice cupcakes that we like to make to celebrate the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season. I also mentioned the celebration we attend at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. Here are some photos of this year’s celebration (which was nice and warm! Some years, on our CA coast, it is blanketed with fog.)

If you want to see some other wonderful Midsummer celebrations in Canada and Scandinavia (including Sweden, where the day is a national holiday!), read this terrific piece by my friend Kari at Active Kids Club.

We walked around the bonfire to drumming, holding stalks of invasive (and unwanted) mustard plant, which we placed into the fire. As we welcomed the new season, we also symbolically let go of things that no longer served us.

Ranger Mia and others told us stories about how various animals, like the raven, and natural occurrences, like the tides, came to be, and led us in folk songs and summer cheers.

There was plenty of marshmallow roasting and playing on the small beach on the longest day of the year.

These folks did their own wonderful drumming, which pulsated along the beach.

It was a special start to a joyous season. Enjoy your summer!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman


Easy Summer Solstice Cupcakes

Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of the summer season, is upon us June 21 this year, at 11:29 Universal Time, or 7:29 am on the U.S.’ east coast. Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

An easy way to celebrate Summer Solstice, whether your gathering is a large one or a cozy one, is to make Summer Solstice Cupcakes. This recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun

1 C sugar

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla extract

2 C flour, sifted first and then measured

pinch of salt

2 t. baking powder

1 C milk

1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice to all!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Joy

National Day of Service

National Day of Service is here again. This year, January 18th marks the Martin Luther King Day national holiday, and the day designated a national day of service as a way of honoring Dr. King’s life and legacy.

National Day of Service has been recognized by Congress since 1994, but it may have been truly popularized last year when President Obama, on the eve of his inauguration, re-declared the day and provided energy and resources toward getting people involved in the service of helping others.

Last year, our family decided to contribute by serving at Muir Woods National Monument. With a group numbering a few dozen people, we raked and cleared dirt paths and cleaned moss and mud from between the planks of the boardwalk that leads into the park. Rangers told us this is something they do twice a year. It felt great to help them and this treasure of a national park, and to contribute our efforts to a stunning, natural place that so many visitors enjoy and that happens to be near our home. Muir Woods and the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy, in the San Francisco Bay Area, have a web page where one can find volunteer opportunities for National Day of Service and other times. The National Park Service also has a page where you can search for volunteer opportunities at national parks around the country.

Last year, we also learned of a local book drive and Anna chose some books she no longer wanted, which were donated to a children’s library in a struggling neighborhood. It was wonderful to imagine other young readers discovering books we had all enjoyed and gotten a lot out of.

This year, of course, a lot of attention is on helping the people of Haiti recover from a devastating earthquake. There are fundraising and other efforts underway. One thing children can do to feel empowered in helping Haiti is to hold a bake sale or other sale to raise money for organized relief efforts.

There is also no shortage of opportunity to help people everywhere with food, companionship, mentoring, building, and otherwise committing some time, energy and goods, for the day of service, a day in the future, or a period of time. A great place to research service opportunities is the serve.gov website, which offers information by locality, as well as information about helping Haiti.

This is a good web site to read or hear Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches and learn more about him. Dr. King said, ”Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ A simple day of service can be a very meaningful way for family and community members to come together in the act of doing something for others and remembering what this holiday is about.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Lynn Mueller

Happy Winter Solstice!

Winter Solstice is just about here, in the Northern Hemisphere — Our longest night and shortest day of the year, when Winter will officially begin at 9:47 a.m., Pacific Standard Time, on Dec. 21.  At that moment, the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.

For the many who, unlike me, yearn for longer days, this is the cheering moment they start coming back, little by little, as the North Pole gradually begins to tilt closer to the sun. (I truly enjoy the whole year and like hunkering down on the longer nights.)

Of course, those in the Southern Hemisphere are celebrating their Summer Solstice and their longest, sunniest day.

This is a great site that explains how the Solstice occurs.

This link illuminates cultural and religious celebrations from around the world that mark the Winter Solstice, the year’s longest night, and the return of the light. I was interested to learn that the ancient Roman 7-day festival, the Saturnalia, sometimes slipped into debauchery, but also included the postponing of war.

Locally, (and currently), in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration in the Muir Woods that my family has attended many times. It occurs rain or shine, and will take place Monday, Dec. 21, at Muir Woods National Monument, from 3-8 p.m. The event, which is free with a park entrance fee, includes Winter woods-inspired crafts, such as making Solstice crowns; singing, storytelling, and a shadow puppet show; hot chocolate for purchase; and the beautiful ancient Redwood-lined trails of the park lit with luminaria, and often ringing with the voices of choral performers.

Attendees should dress warmly, bring flashlights and prepare to have fun. Perhaps there’s a Solstice celebration in your area. Let us know!

Photo – Burning Sun Wheel at Winter Solstice: Thomas W. Fiege/Schandolf

Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS


Ken Burns’ new series, The National Parks, America’s Best Idea, began Sunday night on PBS stations, and is slated to run for six nights. (If you missed the first part, don’t worry. There are ways to catch up online and on TV.) The photography is amazing, as is the poetry used to describe the scenery, and you’d be forgiven for sitting gape-mouthed, as I did, through the majestic tour and sweep of the parks’ landscapes and history.

The U.S. National Park System is truly a treasure, with more than 84 million acres in 400 parks around the country, most of them quite majestic and full of fun things to do and see and ways to relax amid impossibly picturesque nature.


The National Park System began 150 years ago, spurred on both by the glory of California’s Yosemite Valley, and the specter of Niagara Falls, on the U.S./Canadian border, which at that early date had already had many of its scenic overlooks privatized by people charging tourists for the famous views.

It was John Conness, the junior senator from California, who introduced a revolutionary bill that proposed setting aside a large tract of natural land for the future enjoyment of everyone.

In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the law to preserve an area he had never even seen. California took over more than 60 square miles of federal land, on the condition that the land would forever be preserved for “public use, resort, and recreation.” In years and decades to come, John Muir and then Theodore Roosevelt would champion the National Parks, further embedding them in Americans’ psyches and popularizing their use.



The PBS National Parks web site is extremely rich with pictures, history and maps, so you can learn more and get out and explore a national park. The U.S. National Park Service web site is another great place to discover a park near you. It offers a great activity search tool, so you can also find some fun things to do once you get there.




Photos: Acadia National Park, ME (two photos); Muir Woods, CA; Grand Canyon, AZ; Acadia National Park (a great, somewhat challenging, very rewarding bike loop, in addition to hiking); Grand Canyon (lots of good hiking trails in addition to the world-famous view); Muir Woods (on the recent National Day of Service.)